From today's WSJ... no link, pay site.
Right War, Right Place, Right Time
By DEBRA BURLINGAME
September 29, 2004; Page A18
Earlier this month, five 9/11 widows held an emotional press conference and -- one by one -- stood before a microphone to talk about fear. They invoked the tragic loss of their loved ones three years ago and declared that concern for their children's future has moved them to endorse the candidacy of John F. Kerry. These are the very same women who just six months ago angrily denounced the use of fleeting images of Ground Zero in a Bush campaign ad, saying it was a form of exploitation that was "unconscionable" and "disgusting." They asserted that neither candidate should use 9/11 for personal political gain, calling the use of 9/11 "a slap in the face of the murders of 3,000 people."
Though these same widows participated in an anti-Bush demonstration sponsored by MoveOn.org demanding that the president pull his television ads off the air, they maintained then, as they do now, that they are nonpartisan, that they are moved solely by their conscience and by a sense of civic duty. At the close of their press conference, Kerry handlers distributed press releases declaring that "9/11 Families Endorse John Kerry for President" and announced that the widows might be used in television ads in swing states.
Sen. Kerry begins every stump speech these days by introducing these 9/11 widows to kind applause. As we enter the final leg of the presidential race, the Kerry campaign appears to have calculated that the war in Vietnam is not the war the American people want to talk about. And so, trading on their status as 9/11 family members associated with the 9/11 Commission, the Kerry campaign is deploying these September 11 widows on a nationwide tour to tell the American people that there is no connection between Iraq and the war on terrorism. This declaration will come as a surprise to the folks who actually wrote the 9/11 Commission Report. These widows may be speaking from the heart, but the Kerry campaign is not telling you the truth.
Anyone who has actually read the report would know that the 9/11 Commission had plenty to say about the connections between al Qaeda and Iraq, but because much of its findings were beyond the scope of its charter, important details went unstated in public hearings or were buried in the minutiae of the published narrative. Virtually every reporter I have spoken to has failed to answer this basic question satisfactorily: "Have you actually read the report?" The answer is almost always a sheepish "No." Those who have only given it a cursory scan may have missed the fine-print chapter notes where explosive information about names, dates, places, and conversations concerning the Iraq-al Qaeda connection are outlined in chilling detail.
To cite but one of many examples, it states that Saddam Hussein -- wanting to curry favor with other Arab governments wary of Osama bin Laden -- was not responsive to a 1996 request by bin Laden for safe haven in Iraq when the Sudanese government was poised to give him the boot. After bin Laden declared war against the U.S. in 1998, two al Qaeda operatives went to Iraq to meet with Iraqi intelligence. Later, a delegation of Iraqi officials traveled to Afghanistan and offered to set bin Laden up. Taliban leaders, concerned with the increasing possibility of retaliatory strikes by the U.S., urged bin Laden to go. During heated discussions with other Clinton administration policy-makers about the effect of launching missile strikes on bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan, then NSC Counterterrorism Coordinator Richard Clarke worried that bin Laden would "boogie to Baghdad" where he would put his network at Saddam's service and be all the harder to root out, given Saddam's formidable security apparatus.
The Commission further reported that terrorist training camps, now eliminated by the coalition forces of Operation Iraqi Freedom, were set up in Northern Iraq with bin Laden's help. Al Qaeda associate Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was given safe haven by Saddam Hussein after he fled Afghanistan. It is Zarqawi, a chemical weapons expert, who is believed to be the leading force behind Ansar al-Islam, the terrorist organization bin Laden assisted in founding several years ago and which is carrying out beheadings and suicide bombings in Iraq today.
As one of 150 9/11 family members who have signed an open letter strongly supporting the president's decision to prosecute the war on terror in Iraq, I would remind Americans who think the presence of WMD are the sine qua non for any pre-emptive war that the 19 terrorists who slaughtered 3,000 innocent men, women and children in a matter of minutes were sponsored by the Taliban, a backward regime that had neither WMD nor the technology to produce them. Saddam may not have had a hand in the plot that killed our loved ones, but American troops found ample evidence that he wishes he had, including the murals he commissioned for public display depicting airplanes exploding into the World Trade Center towers, but with this added conceit: one shows the planes painted in the colors of Iraqi airlines while Saddam's grinning portrait looms in the foreground in yet another.
For many 9/11 family members, the most compelling reason for putting an end to Saddam's dangerous regime can be found in the 9/11 Commission's pointed analysis on the subject of "imminent threats." As we forced ourselves to read through the voluminous material which explains in excruciating detail the disparate threads of the 9/11 plot, we were constantly mindful of the seemingly innocuous events which would ultimately prove critical to the cruel and brutal deaths of our loved ones. We understand the Commission's dire warning and wish that our fellow Americans would listen closely: "Once the danger has fully materialized, evident to all, mobilizing action is easier -- but it then may be too late."
Rather than waiting until it was too late to prevent a fully materialized threat, President Bush acted. We believe history will support his courageous decision. We believe the president has demonstrated strength, consistency and a laser-like focus, sending a clear message to America's friends and foes that he will not waver in his resolve as the winds of political fortune change.
This month, on the third anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, I had the privilege of visiting with some of our brave and dedicated military men and women who are recuperating from their wounds at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. These young Americans and their families remain staunchly committed to the mission of protecting us and our children and bringing freedom to Iraq. They do not understand why the media refuse to tell the American people about the good work they have accomplished and the progress they are making. These valiant soldiers believe, as one Iraqi blogger put it, that "their river of blood is our river of hope," and that the pessimism of the media is a betrayal that our troops and the Iraqi people do not deserve.
It was these young people whom I thought of when Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi stood before a joint session of Congress last week and paid tribute to the sacrifices of his countrymen and the coalition forces fighting for us all. For political partisans to call the hope of so many a cynical calculation or a foolish dream risks, with a few cheap words, energizing our enemies who measure their success by the blood and tears of these brave hearts. Optimism in the face of obstacles is not living in "fantasyland." It's courage.
The 9/11 widows traveling with John Kerry talk about their fear of a war with no end, but there are many of us 9/11 families who fear that John Kerry would turn this crucial historic opportunity into a losing war with no hope. We think George W. Bush got it right. We believe this is the right war, in the right place, at the right time. We think the good guys are winning.
Ms. Burlingame, a lifelong Democrat, is co-founder of "9/11 Families for a Safe & Strong America" (www.911familiesforamerica.org). Her brother, Chic Burlingame, was the pilot of American Airlines flight 77, which was crashed at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.